When I was a kid, I was bullied.
I got through it. Below is a bit about how (not necessarily that helpful).
As an adult, I’ve prospered. But lately, I’ve failed.
These ups and downs are layers in our lives—they are who we are, and they are who we are becoming tomorrow.
Life is like one of those eroded sandstone rock cliffs…
…where you can walk up to it and see all the strata, layer over layer revealing time and change, one over the other, reddish brown, pale beige, rocky sediment, thick red clay.
Here’s a layer of success, here’s one of family, here’s divorce or moving out East, here’s a layer of strife or loss, here’s one of learning and community, here’s a layer of traveling and self-discovery, here’s a layer of reading, listening to music, meditation. And all the sedimentary layers of our lives—the periods of loneliness or love affair or excitement—bring us right here, to where we are standing, right now.
Ryan and I had lunch at Leaf on Pearl with Mr. (John) Williams (I swear I never knew his first name), our favorite cool inspiring teacher in Junior High. He’s been here all these years since I’ve been back and I never realized it. If you’re local, he’s got a short film festival community gathering coming up, DM him about it.
I brought two old yearbooks from Casey Jr. High. He was my teacher in my first of two years, there, when I was bullied, the lone weak little deer at the end of the herd that gets picked off by the wolves. I was shorter, having skipped a grade, a real nerd, a sweetie who didn’t swear…I was ripe for the picking (on).
That year of being bullied, all my lifelong friends behind me in 7th grade while I, the proverbial 100-pound weakling, took on a whole football team’s worth (two girls, even worse) of bullying in the 7th—gave me lifelong empathy for wallflowers at a party, or those who are insecure, or those who are left out. My best friend Noel and I biked to and from school, and in many ways those rides saved my emotional health and even life, perhaps. And teachers like Mr. Williams—Mrs. Boatman, Mrs. Ogilvie—gave me a love for learning and delight in life that stood me in good stead. A few classmates weakly stood up for me by the end of the year, and that was enough—for I grew 6 inches, say, over the summer and was tougher and less sweet and knew how to be cool and dress like a cool kid and no one every picked on me again, successfully.
But I never forgot who I was, under my newly-calloused exterior—a slightly uptight, proud nerd, a sweetie, and though I couldn’t play sports those years (had to compete against Varsity, no fair, I was puny) I grew into myself despite and because of skipping 6th grade, and that painful year.
And now here I am, at 48, 20 successful years behind me, out of poverty, possessed of a beautiful, quirkily-eco-renovated, cozy, bright fun home, a bike or three, a community or six, and layers and layers of strata’d memories, from here and there and up and down and whatever comes next—I’ll stand on those memories, soon enough.
And this last year, a layer of losses—of tears and hard goodbyes—I hold my finger out into the cold winds and listen, and do not talk, and wonder: where to next?
Standing outside after our lunch, Ryan and his girlfriend, Amelia, and myself—all with some modest success (fourth tier celebs, as we joked) talked about finding that path, uncertainty in our business partners or timing…figuring whether to try to build on our existing layer’s success or jump from loss into a new layer of work and life and love and loss.
The only worry that makes me shiver with the cold, and yet too the only drive that wakes my focus—is that question:
How may I be most fully useful?
For if I am not, my days feel like sands, lost in those winds, rather than settling into layers of earth as future foundation.